Monday, January 30, 2006
Since I haven't read the book "A Million Little Pieces", am never home early or up late enough to watch "Oprah" (and, don't have a working televison or cable) I am hesitant to weigh in on the scandale-Frey. But, I am going to anyway, if only because I think this particular bru-ha-ha about lies/publishing/self-promotion/money/ money/mo' money is interesting and all too symptomatic of our day. James Frey, as all of us over-saturated media consumers know, is the now disgraced author of the book "A Million Little Pieces". The book was, a supposedly, heartwrenching and raw account of his trip down the rabbit hole of addiciton and his subsequent climb back to a respectable life in Middle Earth. Turns out, it might have been better to file Mr. Frey's memoir under fiction rather than autobiography.
I wouldn't be the first to point out that there is something frighteningly appropriate about the fact that la scandale-Frey is playing itself out during the Bush Years. The 2004 Election were a textbook example fo the way truth has become completely abstract: it belongs to whoever is best at manipualting or spinning reality. James Frey grossly lied about his journey to hell and the question has to be asked: for what purpose? To make his battle with drug addiction as titillating, fanatastic, and profitable as possible. Frey suffers from the same addiction that many Americans battle: the insatiable desire for money and notoriety no matter what the cost. In this age of "there's no such thing as bad publicity", James Frey's notoriety is a triumph: everyone's talking about him, he's been on Oprah not once but twice, and his book, despite his recent fall from grace, will still sell because, now, the public is morbidly curious and will want to see what the fuss is all about.
It is hard not to blame the Publishing Company, Doubleday, who got calls from the Rehab Center featured in Frey's book questioning his description of his treatment while there. By then, of course, Oprah, from the heights of her studio on Mount Olympus, er, Chicago, had stamped the book with her midas "O" logo, catapulting it into the best seller ranks, and making
"A Million Little Pieces" the reading material of choice for thousands of soccer Moms. Had the website The Smoking Gun not looked for his mugshot and uncovered the fact that James Frey's real addiction seems to be lying, he'd still be a hero. Everyone, especially Americans, loves a comeback kid and is there anything more heartening than a reformed (white) crack-addict turned best-selling author? The question though is anyone really surprised? Oprah, to her credit, brought James Frey back to her floating sofa and she looked like Zeus, as she threw thunder bolts across the pillows at him.
James Frey is just another hackneyed opportunist but his story illuminates what happens when institutions are more interested in profit and, as a result, don't ask questions that can distinguish truth from fiction.
Thursday, January 26, 2006
And so it's your birthday. And here you are, another year older, and you are getting to an age where people start having certain expectations of you, of what your life should look like. Up to this age, you may have resisted those expectations and shrugged off a "normal" life with a 401 K plan and stock options but, you can't help but wonder if you should explain why you, say, aren't married, don't own property or have health insurance and, furthermore, why it doesn't look like you will anytime soon.
And so it's your birthday and you have to admit with each passing year it's becoming just that little bit harder to jump around from job-to-job and to live in an apartment with two roommates pursuing "your art". Loath as you are to admit it, there's a part of you that deeply craves the white picket fence (a post-modern white picket fence, of course) and a cul-de-sac. If your being honest, there's part of you that would trade it in for the idea that you might feel secure and stable especially after you pick up a paper and it seems like everything you read speaks to a world on a tightrope, net-free, with chaos looming down below. You realize on this, your birthday, that one day your parents won't be around to, actually, write you a check and take you out to dinner to celebrate, one day, you'll have to figure it all out on your own. You can't help but compare yourself to your mother at this age and realize she was raising her third child and had already been married for ten years. You've dated three different guys this year alone and, if your being honest, two of them were just flings.
And so it's your birthday and you try to enjoy the dinner your parents are treating you to and try not to think too hard about whether or not you should be apologizing for not having accomplished as much as you wanted to at your age. And so it's your birthday and you realize your life is what it is and just maybe you don't have anything to apologize for. You blow out the candle, eat the buttercream cake you bought yourself, stop feeling so ashamed (what's the point?) and get ready to start another year.
Friday, January 13, 2006
One of my favorite places in New York City has to be the Frick. The Frick Museum (Collection?) is housed in a gorgeous, baroque, limestone building that almost looks like it was stolen from the Left Bank and moved to the Upper East Side (which wouldn't be much of a stretch, would it?) The building and collection were both, originally, owned by John Frick who was your quintessential captain of industry/ gilded age scion/ rat-bastard with a lot of money and a very fine taste for art. He collected a lot of renaissance pieces and there is an entire room dedicated to religious art (pietas and the like). If you are a leftwinger: ignore the fact that John Frick was, apparently, an incredibly ruthless businessman who brutally exploited his workers and just revel in the glory of his limestone mansion.
Stepping into the Frick you can understand why the Victorians were so obsessed with money: if you had enough of it you could live in a gorgeous house that you could stuff with John Singer Sargent paintings. The inside of the Frick museum is beautiful and completely peaceful; there, usually, aren't huge, frazzled crowds galloping from one section to the next like there are at the Met. Simply put: this is not a Louvre-sized collection so you feel like you can take your time wandering around, free of the worry that if you don't hurry you'll miss the Egyptian tombs, and the early medevil goblets. Plus, the setting in which the art hangs is a former home and there is an intimacy about the entire collection; it feels lived in somehow. Walking around it's hallowed halls you understand why art collecting was and is an obsession for those with a disposable income. Collect the right pieces, a la Frick, and your history will become inextricably linked to artistic greatness.
The lushness of the home and the collection will leave you slightly breathless and if it weren't for the yellow cabs zipping by the French windows you might even think that you were in Vienna.
Monday, January 09, 2006
What can I say? I, too, am a victim to hype, so I went to see "Match Point" this weekend despite the fact that I have pretty much hated most Woody Allen offerrings as of late. Not to mention that, on a personal level, I find the man creepy --someone who runs off with his girlfriend's adopted daughter is, quite rightly, bound to raise some eyebrows and furrow a few brows (mine are no exeception). Nonetheless, the lure of Scarlett Johansen and Johnathen Rys Meyer's pillowly beauty proved too strong to resist. As I watched our stars frolick on screen through the streets of London (and on top of each other) I couldn't help but wonder: what would it be like to have lips that resemble a goose-down duvet cover? But enough about the smackers: how now, the film? First off, I've never seen "Crimes and Misdemeanors", and my friends who are more serious film-goers (Cahiers du Cinema types) wondered aloud why Woody had decieded to remake "Crimes" but just set it in England this time around? Apparently, it traffics in the same theme, namely: is luck a more potent force than justice? Or the philosophical shorthand might be: is God dead?
The film centers around a young man, Chris Wilton, who, retired from the pro-tennis circuit, takes up employment at a very swishy tennis club where he teaches the uber-rich of London how to swing a racket. Chris, apparently, is born under an extremely lucky sign ( the luck metaphor is, ridiculously, hammered home but, admittedly, pays off at the end of the film) and he is assigned to teach a super richie named, Tom. Tom takes a liking to Chris when he finds out that they both share a love of opera (another straight man who loves Puccinni is a rare find!). Tom, naturally, invites Chris to join his family at the opera in their box at the London equivalent of the Met and so Chris meets Chloe, Tom's sister. Chloe takes a shine to the modest but mod young tennis instructor Chris, a humble young man with great bone structure and the aforementioned pillowy lips, and she offers to show him around the Saatchi Gallery and...you know what happens next, right? It is a short step from gallery hopping to bed hopping and Tom teaches Chloe, uh, a thing or two about swinging a racket. Chris gets absorbed into the super-richie family when he marries Chloe, and Chloe's father gives Chris a job and welcomes him into the family fold and if it ended right there then this would be a nice cross-gendered remake of a Jane Austen novel but, alas, the shots of Chris reading "Crime and Punishment" foreshadow the darkness that looms ahead.
The darkness takes form in a rather light and sexy package when Tom's American girlfriend shows up: Nola Rice, one Scarlett Johansen, Marilyn Monroe for the hipster set, who really gets Chris' tennis balls bouncing. Despite the fact that he's married to just about the nicest heiress in London (played by Emily Mortimer who, lacks the poutage of Ms. Johansen but makes up for it with gazelle-like beauty) he can't help but want his own shot at this American sexpot. He gets his shot and the two embark on a charged and erotic affair, one that is part pure sexual friction and, the other mutual desperation. Chris and Nola, you see, are kinderd spirits: two interlopers in a world of wealth whose beauty, charm and luck, is a passport to a world of privilige. When Nola's luck abruptly changes, however, she looks to Chris to be her salvation - she loves him and, furthermore, she needs him. Chris, however, is not so sure he wants to give up the lifestyle he and 1% of London have become accustomed to but Nola is a tenacious broad and is not about to let her man get off so easily. In other words: Nola has become a pest and Chris decides it's time to get Dostoyvesky on her ass.
So he, coldly, plots to kill her and to make it look like an accidental murder offs an old woman in her building too (sorry, Lady - wrong place at the wrong time - eh, luck again?!?). The last half-an-hour of the film is taut and suspensful (the most effective part of the storytelling) as the audience tenses up waiting for Chris to get caught or to not get caught. It's an odd position to be in as an audience member because, eventhough Chris is, clearly, a sociopath he is also the hero of the film, and, if you overlook the fact that he's been cheating on his wife, not entirely a bad guy. Also, I have had some interactions, myself, with someone I consider vaguley sociopathic and I think most pyschologists would agree that what is most frightening about them is how sympathetic, sincere, and seemingly honest they are. But, I think, Woody, is borrowing from Henry James in this story - James, of course, was a great chronicler of wealth and it's discontents; most of his stories end with "you can have love or money but you can't have both and you are going to be bitterly unhappy without one or the other." In short: money wins.
I wondered too, after I saw the film, if this was Woody Allen's answer or reaction to the 2004 election? I realize that might be far-fetched but, to me, that was the first time I lived through an event in which I felt the complete and profound absence of justice (and, am still feeling it). Of course, this film was shot in the summer of '04 so the answer, in all likelihood, is "no." Still, there is a case to be made for certain paralells: a young man, naturally charming, who, with great luck climbs up the ladder of wealth and privilige and the people around him who blindly accept him into their world, not realizing that they've actually aided and abetted a monster. Of course, they are too blind and invested in their own wealth and image to realize they've actually had a hand in their own ruining.
One of my weekend rituals is buying the epic tome, The Sunday New York Times, and reading all the news that's fit to be legally vetted, leaked and printed. I, mainly, buy the Sunday paper to read Frank Rich (no Times Select Subscriber am I), the Arts Section, the front page (of course), the book review (which, depending on whose being reviewed and who is doing the reviewing I do or don't read), the "Style" section (or as I heard it once described "the Women's Sports Pages) and, last but not least, the NYTIMES Magazine. I hardly ever read the Metro Section unless, and this is disgusting to admit, there's an especially harrowing headline about...some terrible murder that has taken place, usually, in the outer buroughs. I never read about technology or real estate because I am not wealthy enough to afford either and my eyes rarely scan the Sports section but that will change this summer when, at long last, there's another World Cup.
Above all, I read the Magazine and this week there was an excellent article about the upcoming Supreme Court case, Hamden Vs. Rumsfeld. In a nutshell: Salim Hamden was Osama Bin Laden's driver/bodyguard and he was rounded up after 9/11 and taken to that netherworld of Guatanemo Bay where he has been kept ever since (without being tried - 4 years and counting). Now, the degree of just how involved he was in the plotting of terrorist acts is still debatable at this point - his lawyer's defense is that he was just another impressionable, poor, Yemen man who got involved in jihad but was not intimately aware of the plans to destroy the U.S.S Cole or the Twin Towers.
Obviously, Salim Hamden, by virtue of his proximity to Bin Laden, is guilty but this story is really how the Bush administration has chosen to prosecute the "war on terror." As it stands now, the President has the right to declare who is or isn't an "enemy combatant" and under the Geneva Convention you can hold an "enemy combatant" (fancy word for "prisoner of war") as long as the war wages on but, there's the rub, when you are fighting a war against a stateless enemy, in a "war on terror" (which, potentially, has no end, and no conclusive victory) those rules become murky. Now, the Bush admin. would like Salim Hamden to be prosecuted in secret by a military tribunal, his case would be heard by three, supposedly, impartial judges appointed by, get this, Donald Rumsfeld.
If you read this article (and you should) there are lots of chilling descriptions of Guatanemo - where inmates exists in perpetual limbo not knowing if they will ever get a chance to even be tried and, as the joke goes, "if they weren't terrorists when they went in, will be terrorists when they get out." The most disturbing aspect, of course, in reading about how our government is fighting this so-called war is the undue damage they are doing to our laws and our much vaunted system of checks and balances.
This is terribly scary stuff but it will be nearly impossible to make Americans realize that if Salim Hamden can be held indefinitely, charged with nothing, only to eventually be tried by a military tribunal then it is only a matter of time before they face the same fate (rightwing claptrap aside: that day is in the future- such is the slippery slope of an autocratic style of governance).
We are slouching towards despotism but most Americans are too preoccupied with Lindsay Lohan's bullemia to notice.
Tuesday, January 03, 2006
Ahhhh yes, t'is the time o' year to make resolutions. Cynics might grouse that New Year's resolutions are silly but I wholeheartedly endorse the notion that if you set your mind to it -- your whole life and all of your nasty habits can change overnight. This is America, goddamn it, where a trustfund, a famous last name, some prozac, and a personal trainer can make any goal a reality. To that end, this year I plan to:
1. Eat more cholcolate.
You only live once people and there's no reason to deny oneself one of life's greatest favors. Chocolate makes me believe in justice and everytime I eat a lindt truffle ball I think that there just might be an afterlife -- who else besides God could have created such a heavenly treat? Leave the fasting and macriobiotic morality eating to Gwyneth Paltrow, those of us working dead end jobs without windows need a reason to hope: so bring on the Toblerone!!
2. Read US Weekly.
Harpers is for sickly intellectual types who doubt the inherent goodness of our Commander in chief. I really don't want to hear anymore whinging about the national debt and the folly of Iraq so, this year, I prefer to nestle in the soft bosom of the celebu-freakdom news circuit. It's shaping up to be a good year, what with Angelina, high priestess of Unicef, possibly giving birth to a baby Brad and, of course, the fantastically sad end of Jessica and Nick: will they get back together? Will they stay apart? Will they date new people? Will they ever love again? Who gave up on the marriage first? Did anyone cheat?
A nation demands to know the truth! I, for one, cannot wait to see how this important news story plays itself out and I am prepared to be shocked and awed in '06 by the delightful antics of our extended celebrity family. No one does a better job catching the glorious daily lives of Paris and Nicole like the Staff at US Weekly (thank God it's US weekly and not US Bi-weekly-phew!) and I plan on turning the pages all year -- long live journalism!
3. Be Less Patient, Be less compassionate.
Time is money and this year I plan on being a bull! However, you won't need to wave a red flag in my face however because I plan to charge all year long. I think of Bill O'Reilly and I don't see an obnoxious blow-hard, I don't see a Joe McCarthy for the media age. I see a hardworking Long Island boy who gets to sexually harass his employees, bloviate about the state of moral decay and get paid a cool 63 mil to do it! Think he turns the other cheek? Think he sees the misfortune of others and, pauses, to reflect "there by the Grace of God go I?" Think he excersies patience and practices compassion? Hell no! It's hightime I start acting like an asshole because, evidently, they rule.
4. Use my credit card.
Who needs cash when you can pay for it with plastic? Look if the Fedi Gub'ment can run up a massive debt than why can't I? The saying that "a government is only as good as its people"works both ways, right? A person is only as good as its government and, in this case, ours is not an ant but a grasshopper (why store away for the future when we live in an age of Terrorism and extreme weather? Tomorrow you could be gone, people, so it's time to support the economy, buy more shit and and let 'er rip!).
5. Spend more time on the internet and watch more television.
Human interaction is for the birds, Grandma, wake up! In '06, I hope to communicate with the masses in an even more alienated and nihilistic fashion.
Blogging is a good start.